Review of Michael O'Brien's A Cry of Stone
National Catholic Register, July 2004
by Ann Applegarth
If you've read any or all of Michael D. O'Brien's previous best-selling novels - Father Elijah, Eclipse of the Sun, Plague Journal, Strangers and Sojourners - you don't need me to tell you that the Children of the Last Days's, series is more than just wonderfully entertaining fiction. It's also a lens through which our age can be viewed in intriguingly refracted light.
Loosely based on the real lives of a number of native North Americans, A Cry of Stone explores what it means to be poor in spirit. The story begins with this description of Rose Wabos, its heroine: "First she was small. She was very, very small, and that was good because no one could see her."
By contrasting the seemingly insignificant life of this young Ojibwe painter with the sophisticated and often hollow world of wealth and leisure, O'Brien is able to play good and evil one another to compelling effect.
Besides being diminutive, Rose suffers constant pain from a spinal problem. But, because of her Catholic faith, she uses her pain for good and focuses instead on the beauty she sees in the natural world and in the people she meets, and on art that reflects greatness of heart, mind and soul. Much like the "little way!' of St. Thérese of Lisieux, Roses simple way enables her to wisely view life in the light of Christ's saving love.
In addition to being an accomplished novelist, O'Brien is himself an artist of note whose paintings and murals can be seen in museums and churches across North America. In fact, since Ignatius wisely chose his beautiful "Creation" for the jacket of A Cry of Stone, readers can enjoy a taste of the author's art.
It is O'Brien's artist's eye that, finally, makes this novel so compelling. In lyrical prose so lovely and sensuous you'll want to read several passages multiple times, he describes scenes, characters and action with a painter's eye for detail.
Here's a tiny taste of O'Brien's descriptive acumen: "In the bottom land, the road swerved around an increasing number of thorn-brakes and hummocks of smooth white stone jutting from under the earth like broken bones. Flocks of small black birds wheeled in unison, broke in midair, for no apparent reason, and scattered, only to rejoin in aerial choreography and settle in the fields, as if on signal. Their little chorus filled the air while meadowlarks, fewer in number, contributed their piercing solitary notes."
The plot might turn on a happy coincidence one or two times too many for some demanding fiction fans, but anyone who enjoys getting lost in the art of a gifted storyteller will enjoy this outing - all 800-plus pages of it. Also, as with all Ignatius books, you get used to seeing commas outside of quote marks quickly enough and after awhile stop. noticing the quirk.
Graceful writing coupled with an absorbing story and multidimensional characters make for an engrossing read no matter who the writer is. To these qualities O'Brien adds theological, philosophical and spiritual depth - all informed by his fierce fidelity to the Catholic faith. For that reason, A Cry of Stone can rightly be called an important Catholic novel.
That's another way of saying the book, like its predecessor volumes in this series, challenges as it entertains. Truly ideal summer-reading fare.
.Ann Applegarth writes firom Roswell, New Mexico.
Reprinted by permission from National Catholic Register. ©2004.
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